A local creative agency, an independent artist and Mecklenburg County’s Department of Park and Recreation have teamed up to “reactivate” L.C. Coleman Park in Washington Heights.
On Saturday, neighbors of all ages spoke with the park’s design team about the proposed renovations over free smoothies, waffles, decaf and doughnuts. Artists demonstrated live spray painting while a DJ provided a soundtrack for children who shot hoops, blew bubbles and played frisbee.
The man behind the park
L.C. Coleman was a community activist for improvement of Charlotte’s Black neighborhoods. He graduated from Johnson C. Smith University before serving in the U.S. Navy. He also served as chair of the District 65 Labor Union Hardware Local in New York before returning to his home of Washington Heights in the late 1960s.
Lynn Coleman Hudson, daughter of L.C. Coleman, said her father used to own a little sundries store on Oaklawn Avenue. He noticed that the children who frequented his store needed more places to play that weren’t segregated by race.
“This park took a lot of blood sweat and tears to get,” she said.
It wasn’t until Coleman took busloads of Black residents to the Southern parts Charlotte to play softball that “they started paying attention,” she said.
Coleman fought to integrate city parks, advocated for seniors and the disabled on the West Side and organized to provide hot meals and reduced bus fare for his neighbors.
With the help of Marvin Smith, another known Black activist of Charlotte, the two created several neighborhood coalitions for collective bargaining power with the city, which was resistant to the demands of Charlotte’s Black residents.
Coleman died in 2015 at the age of 92.
L.C. Coleman Park is one of more than 90 county parks identified for investment. It received a D grade or “poor” rating due to its low accessibility because of steep slopes, inconsistent path paving and old, worn-down amenities.
The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners allocated $2 million dollars from federal Covid funds, plus $850,000 in equity funding, to improve the park. The work is scheduled to be finished by the fall of 2023.
The park is about 19 acres surrounded by woods and green space. It has a playground, two basketball courts and a recreational field with a softball diamond. Though the fields are not regulation size, the design team has proposed an open, grassy “multi-use” space for picnics, athletic practice, dog walking or other activities.
The park is also home to a creek that leads to the Stewart Creek Watershed.
Community members shared feedback on the proposed designs with hand-written sticky notes. Popular among the desired features are a skate park, pickleball and tennis courts and a public meeting space or amphitheater.
Community members also said they want a paved walking path.
Activating the community
Martingly Nelson, executive director of ARC Collective, said Connect at Coleman is about “serving the community” and “doing something more positive.”
“We’re trying to find community leaders and activate them,” he said, “instead of making plans without input from the community.”
Nelson said he’s heard complaints that there aren’t enough benches and that the bathrooms are always locked.
Another important part is to preserve park’s history, said Mattie Marshall, president of the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association.
Makayla Binter contacted Park and Rec. after participating in a recent community cleanup at L.C. Coleman.
“The goal is to get feedback on the design and community engagement,” she said. Binter and Nelson have plans to host a 3-on-3 basketball tournament next spring.
Though Binter expressed lament about the small number of community members who cycled through, she said it was “cool to see a bunch of people from different worlds coming together.”
“It feels very productive,” she said.